Saturday, March 10, 2007


Now that I am a daily commuter on the NYC mass transit system, I am probably exposed to more than my fair share of rudeness (some of it in the form of my own thoughts.) However, within one week I have seen incredible compassion shown by strangers who see others in need on the train. Of course, it's nowhere near Wesley Autrey levels, but it's still wonderful to witness.

About six days ago I was coming home late on a packed N train. As usual, I was deeply immersed in my book when I was startled by the loud sound of a woman who fainted hitting the train floor several feet away from me. The four or five people nearest to her rushed down to help her. They helped her stand, two people gave up their seats for her, and one woman gave her an unopened bottle of water she happened to be carrying. She said she was just stunned because she had never fainted before. Across the aisle, another woman shared her experience with fainting. They were all talking as if they were friends from the office, except they were discussing how lucky it was that when she fell her head it the shoe of a bystander, which happens to be much softer (and possibly cleaner) than the subway floor. Before exiting the train at the final stop, they made sure she had someone to meet her at the train station so she wouldn't be walking home alone.

Then last night, I was on the train headed home again. There was a woman who initially appeared to be extremely drunk. She was sitting down, but her eyes were half-closed and she was swaying all over the place. Several people moved to other parts of the train. Suddenly, she pitched forward and fell to the train floor (I almost wonder if it was in the exact same spot that the other woman did if there is some Bermuda Triangle for consciousness.) Again, the two people next to her helped her up and asked if she was okay. A man sitting next to a window gave up his seat so the woman could lean against the train wall, then he went to get an MTA official. From talking with the woman, we learned that she was actually very ill and had gotten turned around on the train (very far from her home in Brooklyn) and needed medicine immediately. The MTA official worked out a plan to get her the meds and then to get her home.

In the scheme of things, these might sound like small incidents. But I dwell in a community where often the main objective is to not make so much as eye contact with anyone else. There are moments (sometimes even hours) where I feel strangely unhuman in this place. But then the small moments related here remind me that I live in a community. An absurdly large community, but a community nonetheless. And when I most need it, I do believe there will be someone there willing to do more than make eye contact.

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